Darling: The show must go on, but at what price?
by Vladan Petkovic
- Birgitte Stærmose's second feature explores how a top artist deals with a professional and personal disaster
Danish filmmaker Birgitte Stærmose is back with her second feature film Darling [+see also:
film profile], after her 2011 Karlovy Vary title Room 304 [+see also:
film profile] and the acclaimed 2010 docufiction short Out of Love, which was nominated for the EFA awards. Set in the world of ballet and featuring an internationally recognisable Scandinavian cast, the film (which opened yesterday in Danish cinemas) explores how a woman in her prime deals with a professional disaster that threatens to rob her of everything that defines her.
Played by Danica Curcic (Silent Heart [+see also:
film profile]), Darling is a world-class ballerina who returns to the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen after a long and successful run in New York, together with her husband, choreographer Frans (one of Sweden's most recognisable actors Gustaf Skarsgård). Together with the Ballet's director, Kristian (Ulrich Thomsen, with credits ranging from his unforgettable role in Thomas Vinterberg's Festen to Small Town Killers [+see also:
film profile]), who launched their careers, they are about to set up an edgy version of "Giselle".
However, after Darling suddenly collapses in pain at a rehearsal, they learn that her hip is irreparably damaged and she will never dance again. But the show must go on, and a new Giselle is selected, the talented and delicate, but inexperienced Polly (Astrid Grarup Elbo - an actual member of the Royal Danish Ballet, in her first film role). Frans starts working with her, and quickly realises that she is nowhere as well-trained a dancer nor as fiery as his wife.
Irritated, frustrated, and in dire need to patch up the hole the handicap has blown through her personal and professional life, Darling decides to take on the challenge of training Polly, pushing her to physical, psychological and emotional extremes.
Initially it’s hard to sympathise with Darling, as she goes Full Metal Jacket on Polly and threatens to destroy her own relationship with Frans, but with the dedication and nuance that Curcic puts into the role and the development of her character arc by Stærmose and co-writer Kim Fupz Aakeson (A Soap [+see also:
interview: Lars Bredo Rahbek
interview: Pernille Fischer Christensen
film profile]), we get to understand her, if not like her, by the time the film’s open ending comes around.
Cinematographer Marek Wieser delves deep into the dance rehearsal scenes, cutting through the middle of the pirouettes, using the inevitable ballet mirrors, as well as impressionistic close-ups to reveal the characters' complex inner states. Along with well-conceived dialogue, it’s his talent that brings out nuance even from a non-professional actress such as Elbo.
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